How Do I Approach Stroke Work


By Debbie Potts, the Aquatics Director and Head Senior Coach of MSJA

Stroke drills are fun, challenging and add variety to work-outs. I incorporate drills to work parts of the stroke and then we put it all together and try to swim the “perfect stroke.” Drills can be added to any part of the work-out, as a warm-up set, after a sprint set, as the set, or at the end of the practice. I like to drill at the beginning of practice when the swimmers are fresh, but I also like to drill at the end of practice, because this gets the kids to think about good mechanics when they are tired. A swimmer who has solid technique and good work-out habits will be successful.

During the past four years, I coached MSJA’s top age-groupers, who ranged in age, from 9-13. Our goal for this age-group is to have our athletes become good IM swimmers. Therefore we focused on the overall stroke progression of each stroke concentrating on technique, starts and turns.

During the early season, included in every practice was sculling, stroke drills, kicking drills and distance per stroke (DPS) sets. During the first week, we concentrated on free and back and the main emphasis was on body position. The first thing I try to get the kids to do is swim long and swim on their sides. I also gave them some drills that worked their entry, recovery, sweeps and kick. The second week, we worked on fly and breast. During this early season phase, my main fly emphasis is on hips and rhythm. For breaststroke, mainly I work on parts of the stroke (pull, kick, timing, wave action; etc.). We don’t do too much full stroke breaststroke at this time. Mostly, we drill. During the third week, we worked on one stroke per day and each swimmer was video taped on the “stroke of the day,.” The following day, I had the swimmers come early to watch their video. I also gave each swimmer a stroke tip card that listed the positive aspects of their stroke and what they needed to work on. Their warm-up set for the day was “concentration 25’s” where they work on stroke problems that I had observed.

Throughout the duration of the season, my cycle training regimen included endurance training (endurance – aerobic, endurance 2 – anaerobic threshold and endurance 3 – overload/vo2max), speed work, power sets, lactate tolerance, race pace, race strategy, drills, games and dry land training. October through December, our stroke goal was to build yards of “holding stroke.” In October, after series of drills, I would have the swimmers go a set of 10 x 25’s trying to maintain stroke count and hold the “perfect stroke.” By November, we were mixing drills and 50’s of “holding stroke.” Here’s an example of a Fly set we did:

75 Fly drill on the 1:20 + 50 Concentration Fly (holding stroke) on the 1:00 – – 8 times through.

Drill by 25’s: Wind-ups; 2 up-4 down; Single


“Concentration Fly” is where I have them focus on on two aspects of the stroke.

In December, a few weeks before our first championship meet, we were up to short sets of 100’s stroke.

During this three month phase, stroke drills and skill work (starts, turns, streamlines, finishes, break-outs) made-up 50% of our daily training plan. During this time, I like to incorporate drills that work distance per stroke, tempo and distance per stroke with speed. One of the stroke sets we do is 6 x 50’s where the swimmers add their stroke count and time together and log their best total. Above is a sample of our weekly training plan, normally 1 hour 45 minutes – 2 hours per day: Dryland training is on Tuesday and Thursday, 30 minutes before practice.

In January and February I ran “Teal and Black winning edge swim clinics” for my swimmers. These clinics catered to all of the age-groupers, both the lower level and upper level. To make these clinics special, they were by invitation only; they came to practice a half hour early and got to go home early – when the rest of the group was still working out. I handed out invitations and had the swimmers RSVP. I limited each clinic to 10 swimmers. Last year, I had 32 swimmers in my group. I offered 8 clinics and each swimmer was invited to at least two clinics. At these clinics, we watched swim videos, I gave them stroke hand-outs, and every swimmer received a small token for coming (cap, key chain, water bottle; etc.). We spent about 1/2 hour in the classroom and then got in the pool for 45 minutes and focused exclusively on swimming skills. I offered these clinics:

  1. Butterfly
  2. Backstroke
  3. Breaststroke
  4. Freestyle
  5. Backstroke starts and turns – the winning difference
  6. Off to a fast start (keyhole starts and break-outs)
  7. IM Turns
  8. Racing Tactics.

In March, we fine-tuned our strokes and got ready for the Far Western Championships, where incidentally, we placed fourth in only our fourth year of existence.

During our long course season, because of pool limitations, our swimmers were only able to train long course 1 – 3 times per week. To work stroke efficiency, when we got to swim meters we did a lot of stroke counting while swimming fast. I even did a set where the swimmers had to swim backstroke with their eyes closed and open their eye when they thought they were at the 25 meter mark. They got pretty good at doing this and in meets they were confident swimming meter backstroke, because they knew where they were without having to look around. During the long course season, we also did a lot of videotaping. We used the coach scope, had a parent put on some scuba gear and tape the swimmers from all different angles and of course, we used the standard, above water taping. In August, at our age-group monthly awards, I gave each swimmer a personal video tape of themselves which included a tape of their very own 200 IM, the one we submitted to ASCA, and various underwater taping. I had a parent edit these tapes with some music – – “ocean sounds” and the kids really liked these.

In May, I read about the National Stroke Championship and decided right away that we would enter this event. I think this is a really neat swimming competition. Swimmers are recognized for their ability to have good stroke mechanics rather than be rewarded for speed, genetics and strength. I believe that each has its place in swimming.

At MSJA, we do over 150 drills. Some of these drills, I learned at coaches clinics, some, I picked up from magazine articles and swimming books written by successful coaches, but many I developed on my own to “fix” or concentrate on parts of the stroke. The following is a sample of some practices and how I incorporate drills and stroke work into my daily plan:

9/21/92: Early Season (Fly drills)

Stretch 10 min.

500 Loosen with Olympic streamlines

Sculling mixed with Vertical kicking 10 min.

Sculling – Basic;Turbo Power;Hand stand;vertical kicking – flutter;dolphin;eggbeater

6 x 75’s @ 1:30 Drill by 25’s – Dolphin kick with Hands back on 4;Side Dolphin;Dolphin on Back

8 x 25’s @ :40 Scooter Fly drill (work kick timing, stroke length, entry &acceleration)

8 x 25’s @ :40 Drill by 25’s – wind-ups;Underwater Fly (pull downs with dolphin kick – hold insweep &accelerate)

8 x 25’s @ :40 4 x 25’s – Sky Fly (25 right arm/25 left arm);4 x 25’s 2/2 Flex fly

12 x 25’s @ :30 Fly drill/ swim with fins. Drill – Single/Double (work on holding insweep &explosive upsweep)

3 x 400’s @ :20 R 1) 6-8-10-12 kick switch by 25’s alternating 100’s of Free &Back 2) Zoomers: Free drill by 25’s: Catch up with opposite cheek &finger tip drag;Mustard;Elevator;swim 3) Zoomers: Back drill by 25’s Mission Peak;Double touch;Right arm;Left arm (rolling opposite shoulder &hip up)

6 x 100’s @ 1:30 Hans Paddles alternating Back and Free by 50’s MAX. DPS 1st 25- crank 2nd 25.

Start drills: 1) Jump (leg drive) 2) Jump to dive (body action) 3) arm throw (reaction 4) sit dive (keyhole) 5) competition start

Card games: Black Jack, Cardsharks


Dry land: 30 min. Ultimate, phase 1

500 9:00 Stretch free with bathtub sculling every 4th 25

5 x 100’s @ 2:00 Back drill with Hans paddles: drill by 25’s – 6 kick switch;hand up scull;opposite shoulder touch throw;RRLL

10 x 50 @ 1:00 Kick: Right side flutter;Left side flutter with first 1/2 of each lane – underwater shooters


1 x 50 @ :55 Max. DPS Back

1 x 25 @ :35 Sit Spin to tempo

1 x 50 @ :50 DPSS (Distance per stroke with speed) Leg drive at 100%

3 x 100’s @ 1:45 50 Free, 50 Back: descend 1-3, but accelerate every turn and explode the breakouts

4 person backstroke turn relay: every swimmer goes 5 times

3 x 200’s @ 2:40 Free with Zoomers: (In &Out of Race Pace)

#1 1st &3rd 50 Race pace #2 Middle 100 &all turns at race pace #3 last 100 race pace

100 @ 2:00 Easy

T- 15 * Tracking set: swim 15 minutes free at a fast steady pace

3(3 x 5O’s + 2 x 25’s) Free with Fins: 50’s &25’s are on the :30 – ‘A’ group and :35 – ‘B’ group: MAKE IT!

Kick and Catch game

200 easy


Ultimate dryland, phase

400 easy free with feet first sculling every 4th 25

5 x 100’s @ 1:50 Free drill: Catch-up;Mustard;Brisk switch;swim “perfect”

6 x 50’s @ – 1:20 “Cracker Jacks” Make 5 at your ideal pace, swim I recovery: crackerjacks to all who make 5 a pace or faster

12 x 25’s Mid pool turn free relay

100 easy

6 x 200’s @ 2:30 Fin Free: Pace 1-3, Descend 4-6 – #6: beat best time!

100 easy

The following drills are posted on a grease board and are on a :15 rest between repeats &a 1:00 rest between sets

200 Breast: Naked Paddle drill with oversized paddles

10 x 75’s Kick by 25’s: Odd 75’s: streamline head up eggbeater;hands back kick;streamline kick with breathing

Even 75’s: Streamline kick underwater;wrist roll with Barrowman float;Double kick

6 x 100’s 1st 50 drill by 25’s: Triple kick breast;3+1 seahorse (3 pulls – head up;1 full stroke into a Barrowman float);2nd 50 fast pace: 3 up (pull only head up) 1 (full stroke – kick into stretch) down (pull underwater) 1 (Break-out stroke – use legs): # 1-2: use Tips, #3-4 use Hans #5-6 no paddles

8 x 25’s Easy flutter/ fast Breast kick with a board

8 x 50’s odds= drill by 25’s: Build a kick (do it head up);exaggerated wave action with flip turns and 2 pulldowns

evens = race pace Breast with race pace tum

200 loosen

Ultimate Frisbee game &get their Cracker Jacks


800 100 alternating 25’s of opposite cheek drill and swim long;100 6 kick switch

4 x 100’s fins &paddles: max. DPS;max. Streamlines &3 breaths per lap

12 x 50’s (1:00) IM drills by 25’s to work scull &entry – – do 3 rounds in IM order – – go 6 on the 1:00 &6 on the :50 (:50) 1. Fly,”indups;2/2 Flex

2.Back: Hand up Scull;Opposite shoulder touch throw 3. Breast: Feet lst scull: dolphin shooters 4. Free: 3 way scull;head up

3 x 400’s @ :30 rest 4 x 100 IM’s straight

  1. Acceleration drills: 2/2/Sky;Rockets-, RLB Target shooters;Catch-up with super acceleration
  2. Odd 100’s = Kick -Pull by 25’s;Even 100’s = Pull – Kick by 25’s
  3. Odd 100’s = RLRL (right arm fly;left arm back;right arm breast;left arm free – Even = LRLR

12 x l00’s** IM -descend 1-3;4-6;7-9;10-12 &descend interval for every 3 x 100’s

**1:45;1:35;1:25;1: 15 &take a 1:00 break after 6 to put fins on

4 x 50’s @ :50 easy: double arm back/fire

16 x 25’s @ :30 FAST kick alternate dolphin and flutter

200 easy

About Debbie Potts

Debbie Potts is the Aquatics Director and Head Senior Coach of MSJA. She was part of the steering committee that formed Mission San Jose Aquatics in September of 1989. From 1989 lo 1992, Debbie coached the MSJA Elite Age-Group program. Debbie’s background includes 13 years of competitive swimming, 15 years of teaching swimming and 10 years of USS coaching. Debbie began coaching in 1983 and has developed quality swimmers, including Pacific and Nationally ranked swimmers, National champions, Junior National qualifiers, Pacific and Western Zone All Star members, 7 Pacific Record Holders, a National Record Holder, and four National Stroke Champions. Since 1991 she has had 4 individual National Age-Group Champions, 2 National Champion Relays and numerous National Reportable Top 16 ranked swimmers.

Debbie has been a coach member of numerous Pacific Swimming and Western Zone All-Star teams. In 1992 &1993 she was nominated for “Age-Group Coach of the Year.” In 1993 she was selected as a coach to attend a Select Senior All-Star camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. She has twice been a speaker at the annual Pacific Swimming Coaches Association clinic. She holds an ASCA Level 4 Coach Certification. Her main goal is always to develop 100% of her swimmers.

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